It would take you just one afternoon at my own Los Angeles practice to discover how untrue this is. My clients are all genders, ages, and ethnicities. I accept some private insurance and one public insurance. Among my patients with eating disorders are non-native English speakers, immigrants from low SES backgrounds, and people on public assistance.
The myth that eating disorders affect only the wealthy not only makes it more difficult for patients who don’t meet the stereotype to recognize that they have a problem but affects the entire system of treatment.
Throughout the US, there is a shortage of publicly funded specialized treatment programs for eating disorders. And specialized eating disorder treatment is expensive! The residential treatment complex only serves the economically privileged.
Carolyn Becker, Ph.D. recently brought attention to the presence of eating disorders in food insecure populations. The research on which she collaborated studied adults receiving food at San Antonio area food banks. Those who had hungry children in their households (representing higher levels of food insecurity) had higher levels of binge eating, dietary restraint, weight self-stigma, worry, and overall ED pathology when compared to participants with lower levels of food insecurity
Within Los Angeles County, eating disorders are a covered diagnosis by the Department of Mental Health (DMH). However, according to a DMH district chief, there are no specialized services for eating disorders within the DMH system. I recently led a training on eating disorders at one of the county community mental health centers and a staff member there told me, “Most patients with eating disorders are seen in primary care and none of us are trained specifically in this… What we need is training in evidence-based treatment.”
A clinical staff member at another DMH clinic said, “Honestly, we don’t have a lot of access to resources for people with eating disorders and aren’t equipped to adequately handle serious cases at this clinic. Referrals have always been difficult and there are no reliable referral sources for our patient population. We have really only been able to connect a few of our most severe cases to any treatment at all.”
I searched the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness list of Medicare/Medicaid providers and facilities within 50 miles of Los Angeles and came up with only one Medicare provider and no Medicaid providers or facilities.
This blog post was inspired because as a provider for Anthem Medi-Cal, I am receiving calls from county clinics with referrals of other (non-Anthem) Medi-Cal patients with eating disorders that I can’t see. So, when faced with a patient with an eating disorder and no insurance in LA County, what’s a provider to do? Here’s what I’ve been able to find. If you have other resources, I’d love to hear about them!
CHLA takes California Medicaid for patients under age 25 needing medical stabilization.
UCLA takes California Medicaid for patients under age 25 needing hospitalization for eating disorders.
General low-fee counseling centers
Southern California Counseling Center
Maple Counseling Center
The Wright Institute
Cal Lutheran Low Fee Counseling Center
Becker, Carolyn Black, Keesha Middlemass, Brigitte Taylor, Clara Johnson, and Francesca Gomez. 2017. “Food Insecurity and Eating Disorder Pathology.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 50 (9): 1031–40. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22735.
Thanks to Rosewood Center Santa Monica for help with the referral list.